My heart in writing this is not to add to the millennial bashing that seems in vogue - after all, I am (just barely) part of this generation myself. I rather hope to shed light on some of the struggles, and encourage young followers of Jesus that it is possible to overcome them.
As with so many things in life, awareness is the first step to correction; if you aren't aware of it, you can't fix it.
What follows is part one of a blog series devoted to what I see as the main obstacles to millennials becoming effective, full-time missionaries.
Living in the moment is an anthem for young people today. This mentality produces a suspicion of committing to anything that leads too far into the future. Instead, twenty somethings see life as a series of short adventures, not needing to connect the dots or head in any particular direction.
In the Christian world, we call these intervals “seasons.” While it is relatively easy to get a millennial to sign up for a volunteer position or a short-term trip, it always seems to come with the subconscious assumption that this season will be brief - perhaps six months, rarely more. At its conclusion, whether spoken or assumed, millennials will feel entitled to re-evaluate their position, and will likely step into something entirely different.
I have come across many young Christians who hop from one experience to the next, often doing so well into their twenties.
In my experience, it is very unusual to find a young Christian who is inspired by a cause, considers the cost, and then commits to it indefinitely. In fact, the very word indefinitely seems to induce a gag reflex in those born in the mid 80’s or later.
Sadly, many millennials view missions like casual dating, rather than marriage: something fun, experientially fulfilling, but not requiring significant commitment. Not surprisingly, this perspective is of little value to the often underfunded and understaffed ministries that are desperately trying to meet a particular need.
A noncommittal millennial gains little from short-term involvement that is not sustained long enough to yield fruit in both their personal lives and the task they are working to accomplish. The result is ministries that find themselves in a never-ending recruiting cycle, often wasting considerable resources and energy.
To clarify, not everyone in ministry needs to be full time to contribute in a valuable way, nor does this describe every young person today. The ministry I am involved in is sustained, in large part, due to our army of volunteers, many of them in the early twenties. And yet the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few (Matthew 9:37), leading me to believe that while not all, certainly more millennials are called to go all in.
Yet today, it's all about short-term and season to season. Long gone are the old-school days of missionaries packing their belongings in a coffin and boarding a boat, knowing that their work would end only when their lives did. That’s pretty hardcore, but if I have learned anything in ministry and life, it’s that half-measures accomplish nothing. We understand this in sports, in relationships, and even in secular vocations, so why not in ministry?
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). I think if we are honest with ourselves, our reluctance to commit to something has less to do with compatibility or calling, and more the secular mindset. There is nothing more revered in our time than personal autonomy. We are told all day long that life is about fulfilling our desires and controlling our destiny. Giving our lives to anything, or anyone other than ourselves, is antithetical to the spirit of our age.
We have to recognize this pattern of our day, and actively fight it. We should not be surprised when our enemy perverts the truth, attempting to convince us to buy into a mentality that promises freedom but delivers an unfruitful life.
The truth is, someone who spends their whole life avoiding commitment will wake up one day no longer young, having accomplished nothing of significance, and filled with regret.
By contrast, the young follower of Jesus who gives everything - not for a season, but completely and without an exit strategy - will experience the incredible providential power of a God whose desire is to strongly support those whose hearts are fully His (2 Chronicles 16:9).
It is only then that they will make an eternal difference in a world that desperately needs it.